Circle Up the Wagons!

Circle Up the Wagons

I was a surprised by the image of a wagon train circling up on the prairie this morning, but I’m learning not to question God when He’s teaching a lesson. In the wild west, circling up the wagons was necessary for the safety of those traveling through dangerous territory. It is an effective strategy for keeping that which isn’t desirable from getting in and that which is precious from getting out.  It formed a tight-knit community of travelers and probably saved many lives.

In this day and age, the technique doesn’t work. In fact, it acts as a sort of bullseye for someone flying overhead. People have the tendency to clump together when threatened, and that is especially true in politics and in religion. It would be comical if it weren’t creating so much tension in our country and all around the world. It’s easy to throw a rock or fire a gun from the inside of a circle of wagons, but it’s much more difficult to love those who think differently that we do.

I get so very tired of the circled up right and left wings, and I’m sure God sighs each time a group of His children decide to circle up and make a stand. Pointing fingers instead of guns, the circles hurl insults and accusations toward one another while trying to get others into their circle. When God looks down upon the circles, I’m sure His heart breaks. He knows the best way to love is to let others be who they are. Christ didn’t circle up the wagons even though His followers were chomping at the bit for Him to do just that. “Let’s rain some fire down on them Lord!” was the fervent cry then, and it is the fervent cry now.

Having to be right and in control is at the heart of circling up in the political arena, and the same themes abound in the world of faith. I grow so weary of folks worrying about that which differentiates us. Self-differentiation is what God desires. He says clearly, “I AM.” He expects us to be who we are and to love each other not only despite our differences, but because of them. God forbid that we should all circle up one day and spew the same rhetoric.

Circling up the wagons is a great example of what fusion does to relationships. It was good for the pioneers to lock hands and stay very close when danger threatened them, but it is terrible for God’s children and shows a lack of faith in Him. Self-differentiation enables growth in our individual relationships with God and one another. When I feel the wagons circling up, I quickly look for a crack to slide through before the circle becomes a noose. I don’t mind if you are on a bandwagon or in a wagon train, just don’t expect me to be on or in it with you. Love me for who I am, not for what I believe. I have my own unique way of loving and living in this world, and I’m learning it’s best to stay away from those tight-knit circles if I want to love as God desires.

Crusade or Revival?

The Crusades were the darkest days of Christianity. There is nothing noble about forcing people to believe as you believe. There is nothing gallant about galloping around the globe in concerted effort to promote your agenda or eliminate everyone else’s. I am guilty of being mesmerized by knights in shining armor and tales of princesses being recused by them. I’ve had my share of knights and knaves on this journey, but I repent my fascination with that time period. There is nothing romantic or wonderful about it. There is no body count for how many died in those senseless holy wars, and there is no count of the tears that fell from heaven as countless men, women, and children were slaughtered in God’s name.

The difference between a crusade and a revival is that one comes from the efforts of groups on the outside and one comes from a renewal within an individual. Spring is a beautiful example of such a renewal. I can go out armed with shovels and fertilizer and force plants to either bloom or die, but that stops the process of breaking through the cold earth on their own and results in a short-lived, painful imitation of true renewal. 

Crusades  thrived on an “us/they” mentality. Revival involves a “me/God” realization. There is a world of difference between the two. God can have a crusade if He so desires, and Jesus could have performed the most amazing trick ever by pulling His hands away from those hate-filled nails on the far left and far right, bringing havoc down upon this world in a way that would have left us believing in a different sort of Savior. Maybe He would even have a shining knight’s suit of armor. We would still be quaking and doing whatever He said for us to do. He chose to die. He chose to love. He chose to forgive. He chose to extend mercy and grace. It’s what we must also choose to do. It’s much easier to wield a sword in a safe suit of armor, but God knows better than anyone that force doesn’t work when it comes to love.

Revival comes from God, and it comes one person at a time. It’s the feeling of seeing how the love of God is working in the life of another and wanting the same thing. It’s coming to the realization that it is God in that person that makes a difference and letting God come to me in the same way. I have a dear friend who loves God more than anyone I know. When I first heard him speak of God, I knew I wanted what he had. I have it now, but I learned that the process of getting it involves more than simple imitation. More people die in a revival than in a crusade because everyone who experiences revival dies. You cannot be revived if you are alive and kicking on your own terms. Surrender is necessary for revival, and that means going in a new direction. There is nothing more difficult than leaving the known and stepping into the unknown. It takes great faith and personal sacrifice, but the resulting peace truly is beyond our understanding.

Not everyone involved in those hate-filled Crusades died, but Christ’s love was trampled into the ground where the blood of those who did die flowed. Holy wars trample upon God’s heart and bring the very thing He hates the most, division. I pray we learned our lessons from those first disastrous attempts at forcing religion down the hearts of others. I look around today and see the anger and contempt that comes from mixing politics and religion, and it breaks my heart. I know it breaks God’s too. In a true revival, there is no agenda. There is only love. In a crusade, there is no love. There is only an agenda. 

Importance is Relative:)

When I read Mark 9:30-37, I think of how the disciples mirrored what the world so wants to know. How important am I? We all want an answer to that question from God, our loved ones, our employers, and our friends. The disciples argued about just that:

(The Message Eugene Peterson) Leaving there, they went through Galilee. He didn’t want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive.” They didn’t know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road? The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest.He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.”He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”

I love the way Jesus teaches. He first asks a question for which He has an answer. Confession is necessary to clear the heart and mind so He can begin. That’s true for the disciples and for me. I understand that deafening silence all too well; it is the beautiful open space God gives for growth. It seems like an abyss when I’m not ready to admit any wrongdoing or wrong thinking. Space is freeing, but only when truth is allowed free reign.

Jesus never answers my questions with a simple yes or no. Like the one He gives His disciples, answers are designed to make me come to knowledge. He doesn’t impart; He saves that for those who know it all and stand in judgment of others. He doesn’t work that way, and it bothers those who want easy answers and quick punishment. Christ is clear in His answer and gives food for thought, as always with Him.

Being first is still important, and it tears at the heart of God’s work. Divisions limit God and His work. Who gets to be the leader? Who will be in charge? Who will make the decisions? The answer to all those questions is obviously God, but man has the need to define and create a hierarchy when it comes to serving Him. Such a shame in that it causes His work to take a back burner to our plans. I wish the body of Christ looked more like Him, and it would be wonderful if we were more concerned with following than leading.

With the election coming near, division has reared its ugly head and is tearing our country apart. It’s hard not to get caught up in the anger this year. I’m used to the mudslinging that goes on, but this election goes well beyond the mud and is cutting right to the heart of this country. It breaks my heart, but it has taught a wonderful lesson as I’ve found myself floundering and falling right into the fray at times. I am reminded of the answer Jesus gave a group of followers falling into the same trap.  He isn’t like the world, and I need to remember that. He isn’t running for office or sanctioning either candidate. He is bidding me to be last and to embrace the little ones who have the right answers until the adults teach the wrong ones.  There’s a lot of bad teaching going on right now as those little ones mimic and mirror what they see before them. God forgive us all for that!